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Great Danes Take Home the Bacon

by Anthon-Pieter Wink |  Published: Dec 01, 2007

Rene Mouritsen and Philip Hilm stormed the World Series of Poker. The former finished runner-up in two events, and the latter came within a whisker of being world champion. Card Player spoke at length with them about their whirlwind experiences.

Year after year, the World Series of Poker delivers great stories. They can be stories of fortune, of despair, of dreams, and of disappointment. How would someone feel who had a great Series, cashed for a very good sum of money, had his name on every blog, was so close to a bracelet he could touch it, but fell just short of winning the coveted piece of jewellery? Card Player interviewed two Danes who were in exactly this situation: Philip Hilm and Rene Mouritsen told us about their WSOP experiences.

Philip Hilm is 31 years old and plays poker professionally. He was born in Copenhagen, the son of a Danish mother and a Polish father. He recently has lived in Poland for two years - and even represented Poland in the 2006 World Cup of Poker - but now has moved to Cambridge, England, where part of his mother's family lives.

Hilm had a great main event this year, and came to the final table as the chip leader, making him the favourite for the title in the eyes of many. Nobody had expected him to be the first to leave the final table, but that is just what happened. In hand No. 14, Hilm lost the chip lead to future winner Jerry Yang, and in hand No. 15, his semibluff all in on the turn against the same Yang was called, and he failed to improve against top pair, top kicker. Hilm took down $525,934 - not $8,250,000 - but has no regrets.

Rene Mouritsen is 33 years old, lives in Aarhus, Denmark, and has been a professional poker player for five years. Before switching to poker, he made a living playing backgammon, pool, and other card games. He finished eighth this year in the WSOP Player of the Year standings. He achieved this standing in the final third of the tournament schedule, by cashing three times. Two out of these three times, Rene ended up playing heads up for a bracelet. Twice, he saw the money being carried in; twice, the bracelet placed on top of it; and twice, he had to shake the hand of his opponent, knowing that he was shaking the arm where the bracelet would end up.

Mouritsen could well have won both the $1,500 mixed hold'em event and the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha event - the "official" world championship of Omaha - but was left with two second places. Any poker player would love to get these results, and Rene is a very happy man, but when he was there, it felt like a "kick in the face."

Anthon-Pieter Wink: Guys, all in all, you both had a good World Series. Did you do anything in particular to prepare yourselves this year?

Philip Hilm: I arrived in Vegas just a couple of days before the main event. Vegas can be a stressing city, and I wanted my mind to be well-rested before playing. I also have been analysing my game a lot in order to improve. In almost every tournament, I used to build up a huge stack in the beginning and throw it all away in the middle stages. I changed my strategy right before the European Poker Tour Grand Final in Monte Carlo, and made it to 15th place in that tournament. And the next tournament with my new strategy was the WSOP. I used to get reraised before the flop often in the middle stages of a tournament. Now, I limp more preflop, so if anyone is reraising, it's me. I think I'm doing something right with this.

Rene Mouritsen: I prepared with a lot of physical training to combat the grueling long days in the tournaments. Some days, we played 14 hours a day. If you're out of shape and eating bad food, it's very hard to stay focused and play your A-game. When I was younger, I played a lot of squash, so I really enjoyed starting up with that again. Pumping iron was another method to get in shape, but I hate it so much! I pushed myself to do it anyway, so this was probably better for my self-discipline than anything else.

APW: Now, you didn't know each other before this interview, which I find a bit strange, as a fellow representative of a small poker nation. How was the interaction with the other Danish players? Did you go out together, swap bad-beat stories, or talk strategy?

RM: Even though the Danes stick together often, there were more than 100 Danish players at the WSOP this year, so you never meet all of them. I rented a house with three other guys, and you get to know each other quite well during a month. Usually, there would be more strategy talk than bad-beat stories, because you hardly ever learn anything from a bad-beat story. We would often go out for dinner and discuss hands played, and in my opinion that's a key factor in improving your game. Getting to know how your opponents and colleagues think and play is priceless.

PH: Yeah, the Danes hang out a lot together. We go out, talk strategy, and try not to swap bad-beat stories, since no one wants to hear them, anyway. I didn't have much time to go out this year, though, since I was in Vegas only for the main event and was playing poker most of the time.

APW: What do you guys think of the way you played during the days leading up to the final table, or final tables, that you reached?

PH: I'm very satisfied with my play. I try to incorporate reads and hyperaggressive play. That aggressive image can work against me sometimes, but I often have been able to save hands by making a correct read.

APW: Example?

PH: I remember open-raising with 9-6 from the cutoff. Only the big blind calls, a man with whom I had not yet played, as he had just sat down. The flop comes 9-8-4 rainbow, and he checks. I make a decent continuation bet, and he calls. The turn is a 5, and suddenly he bets out, giving me a look like he wants to tackle me right off my chair. I'm sure that I have the best hand here, and I call. The river is a deuce.

Now, he's positively shaking. He bets the same amount as on fourth street, and I see myself forced to fold. The man starts apologizing, saying he drew out on me, and he shows A-3 for a runner-runner straight. He told me that he just didn't believe me, thinking I was trying to bully him, but then realized he might have had the worst hand until the river. The funny thing was that he kept on apologizing for 10 minutes; he felt genuinely sorry.

RM: I still have a lot to learn when it comes to playing a big stack. My short-stack play went very well, thanks to the experience I have playing loads of single-table tournaments. During single-table tournaments, you never play with a huge stack, and I know I'll need to work on that. But my short-stack play gave me the chance to come back when things looked bad. I think I have a very good idea of when to move in on players. Overall, I'm very happy with the way I played, though.

APW: Since your experiences were quite different, we will now discuss the stories of your World Series seperately. Let's start with you, Rene. What do you think of your play during your respective final tables? Did you get to play the way you had planned?

RM: My first final table was the mixed hold'em event, and everything went very smoothly. I had come to the table with an average stack, but managed to double up twice early, both times with A-K against pocket queens. This gave me a nice chip lead, so I could withstand a few losses along the way. Having the chip lead gave me the opportunity to focus on winning the event instead of being in survival mode, and I believed that I took control of the table. The structure much resembled a sit-and-go tournament, so I really felt at ease until it was down to the final two.

When Fred Goldberg and I got heads up, we were even in chips, and it was the limit hold'em level with very high blinds. That is when my confidence took a blow: Fred took 10 pots in a row - most of them with a showdown - so I just got bulldozed. I finally doubled up with an A-J when I flopped middle pair, and was able to survive to the no-limit level. I won a few pots and began to feel confident again. I got a feel for his style of play and then I tried to adjust my own style. He called my bets with a wide range of hands, so I had to cut down on my bluffs.

Right when I started to get the faith again, it was over, all of a sudden. Fred had called from the small blind and I had checked with the 5 2. I flopped a 5-high flush when it came J 8 4, but Fred held the 10 7, so the action was pretty heavy on the flop and we ended up all in. I was expecting to get the chip lead back with my flush, and instead I had a 1-in-500 chance to make a backdoor straight flush. It was like a kick in the face.

In this tournament, I really liked my chances because I was able to bully the table with my stack and I didn't have any major setbacks until we got heads up. There wasn't really much I could have done differently, and in the end the cards just didn't swing my way.

The $10,000 Omaha event was a little different, because the high buy-in had attracted some of the biggest names in poker. Whereas in the mixed hold'em event I had felt like the table captain, this final table was packed with strong and aggressive players, so it felt completely different. It was very intense having Doyle Brunson at the table, gunning for his 11th bracelet to tie the record that Phil Hellmuth had set. Doyle got a little unlucky against Patrik Antonius twice, so he was out in seventh place. I managed to double up my $700,000 in starting chips without showing a hand down, so it felt like I was doing something right. I was trying to keep the pots small against Robert Mizrachi, because he was the only one with enough chips to kill me. That plan failed completely when we both got aces. There was no way an all in could have been avoided. I had the A A K Q, and that is pretty much as good as they get. The flop gave me a straight with the J 10 9, but Robert had the nut-flush draw, so it wasn't over just yet. The turn and river were blanks, so I doubled up to become a massive chip leader and cripple Robert in the process. He fought back, though, knocking players out left and right. I, too, managed to win a few pots along the way. It was a perfect scenario for a classic final.

When it got threehanded, Robert and I had most of the chips and Patrik Antonius was struggling a bit. At that point, my cards started to fail me and my chips were dwindling, and I must say that at that time I was really trying to find a spot to gamble. Robert was playing well, and when he finally knocked out Patrik, he had a 3-to-1 chip lead on me. I got very hurt in our first big pot, so I was in the all-in zone after that. I managed to double up a few times, but in the end my luck ran out and Robert claimed the bracelet, the glory, and the $769,000.

APW: At the Omaha final table, you had the chip lead for a long time. Did you expect to win it at any point? Did you adjust your strategy to your chip lead, and if you did, do you wish you hadn't?

RM: I try not to get ahead of myself when playing a tournament. Of course you have to look at the big picture, but you still need to stay in the moment and focus on the hand you're playing at that time. Starting to daydream about the bracelet in the middle of a final table will make you lose focus. I tried to adjust my play when I got the chip lead, but the cards and especially the players didn't really allow me to dominate the table.

APW: Coming so close twice and not winning must have been (at least a bit) disappointing. But you put some great results down for this year's WSOP. What do you think of your whole tournament experience this year?

RM: It was a great experience. A bracelet would have been nice, but I really can't complain. I am very proud of my eighth-place finish in the WSOP Player of the Year standings, especially because I played in only the last one-third of the Series. Seeing your name next to some of the greatest players in the game definitely gives you satisfaction. What I remember well was a perfectly timed semibluff against three players - Tommy Ly, Patrik Antonius, and Marco Traniello - at the pot-limit Omaha final table. I read them all as fairly weak, check-raised all in on the turn with just two pair and a queen-high flush draw, and got Antonius to fold the low end of a straight. I couldn't resist showing the hand after everyone had folded. Doyle Brunson commented, "That's smooth sailing right there, son." That was a big moment for me.

APW: I can imagine. Now, Philip, let's talk main event, final table. What do you think of your play during the final table? Had you planned to play very aggressively, taking into account the risk of leaving the table as the first one?

PH: I believe that I played right. In hindsight, most of the players seemed passive, like they were trying to get up the prize ladder. The difference between first place and the other places was so huge that only first place counted for me. Taking calculated chances and playing very aggressively was my plan from the beginning.

APW: How did that battle plan translate into the last hand you played?

PH: During hand No. 14, I was really tempted to push all in on the flop. I had called a very big raise - about 10 big blinds - from Jerry Yang in the big blind with K-Q offsuit. The flop had come A 10 8, I checked, and Jerry bet $3 million, only a bit more than half the pot. In the end, I decided to just call. Then Jerry made a big bet after I checked the turn, the 3. I wondered if I should raise all in there, but decided that my draw was too weak and folded.

Then, in the next hand, I decided to call Jerry's preflop raise when I was in the small blind with the 8 5. I flopped bottom pair and a flush draw with the K J 5. Here, I decided I was going to make a move, but I would first let Jerry make the pot bigger, as I expected him to make a continuation bet. He did exactly that, and I called; I was expecting him to bet the turn almost no matter what he had. I would check-raise the turn to extract the most money out of him. When the turn brought the 2, I executed my plan and was almost sure he would fold. But to my big surprise, he held the A K and had an easy call as the favorite for a pot of almost $40 million. The river 6 was no help, and I was eliminated.

APW: Do you not think he overplayed his top pair, top kicker here? Could he possibly have had a read on you?

PH: No, I don't think he overplayed his hand. I believe he made the right play with top pair, top kicker on such a drawing board. I just didn't put him on the hand that he had, due to the way he had played up to that hand. I thought he might be drawing himself, or even betting second pair or worse. I'm quite sure that he didn't have a read on me, as Jerry didn't see any of my previous semibluffs. And throughout the final, he called every all-in bet with top pair.

APW: Rene, what do you think of the way Philip played at the final table?

RM: I have great respect for the aggressive way in which he played, but I would have folded his hand before the flop. I heard another Dane describe the way Philip plays as "psychopathic" the other day, so I should not be surprised. But again, I respect his style a lot.

APW: Philip, do you regret playing the way that you did? When answering this, take into account that sixth place was about double the prize money you received (almost $1 million).

PH: I have absolutely no regrets. The bracelet and first place are so much bigger than anything else; I would make the exact same play tomorrow.